WORLDBEAT - Tube could hop on music-sharing train

Three computer scientists are hoping to turn London's Underground subway system into a thriving network for sharing music unencumbered by copyright.

The project, London Undersound, would let commuters download and upload tracks to each other via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, said Joanne Brewer, a doctoral student in informatics at the University of California at Irvine, who is currently doing research in London.

London's Underground subway system is a dead zone for mobile phones. No signals penetrate the grimy 19th century tunnels and there are no transponders within to allow calls or text messages. Nonetheless, people still tap away on their mobiles offline, composing text messages and playing games, Brewer said.

And despite the sometimes gruff demeanors of commuters, there is a social network, with people sharing items such as the newspaper and interacting with each other, Brewer said.

"There's a lot of very implicit and unspoken sharing practices that go on," said Brewer, who conducted studies on social interaction on the Underground. "There was this sort of special feeling people had about the Tube in that they felt a concentrated mix of humanity."

The mass of people combined with ubiquitous mobile devices make the Tube a perfect place for sharing media. Brewer and two colleagues, Arianna Bassoli and Karen Martin, also doctoral students, envision London Undersound as a system where people will be able to upload and download tracks at Underground stations.

Each station would have a unique set of tracks specific to that area of the city, making the act of traveling and then the sharing of music part of a social experience, Brewer said. Using their mobiles, people would be able to share tracks via Bluetooth while they're riding the Tube, as well as upload music at Underground stations.

Technically and legally, the project is complex. The three researchers are designing a handset application written in Java for Symbian or Linux OSes that would enable the sharing of tracks between users. Brewer said they originally thought it would be possible to install servers at Underground stations, but that idea posed too many difficulties.

Now they're looking into equipping people with Nokia N800 tablet PCs within the stations. Those tablets could distribute tracks over Wi-Fi or another wireless protocol. The handset application would let users scan the song libraries of other people within Bluetooth range and download a track, albeit with the permission of the person.

"Each station acts as a localized repository," Brewer said. "As people begin sharing tracks with one another in a peer-to-peer fashion, you can download them from anyone you happen to see on the platform."

There are many networking and routing issues that come with lots of people using wireless devices in a small area, Brewer said. As an increased number of devices interact with one another, it quickly becomes a dense, saturated network, she said.

On the legal side, "obviously, there are a host of copyright issues," Brewer said.

The researchers are not pushing for Undersound to be for mainstream, established acts but rather emerging artists interested in establishing a link between where they live, their music and their identity. Filters could be used to keep out copyright material, she said.

Undersound is also in discussions with Creative Commons, the organization that studies ways to protect the creator's rights but also balance use of the work, for licensing models.

"We're hoping to give more meaning to the music and allow artists to express themselves in a more realistic way rather than [putting fliers] all over London," Brewer said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?